Last week I read the horrific story about the SeaWorld trainer in Orlando who was killed by Tillimuk, a killer whale, during a routine show in front of a live audience. What made this horrible accident so shocking was how ordinary the circumstances were during the show. The victim was a seasoned professional who worked with this whale daily. The show was a routine, likely one of hundreds just like it. While the exact details of the trainer's death are still coming to light, all it took was a quick, "playful" grab from this massive animal to create an instant tragedy.
Of course, killer whales are wild animals known for, well, their "killer" instinct. Luckily, most people in Arizona don't interact with killer whales in their backyard (excluding the inflatable kind).
However, it doesn't take a wild creature to cause a serious personal injury. Animals are part of our everyday lives, especially those that we keep in our home. I live with two dogs that are incredible to be around, but I started to ponder just how much trust I place in them. It's quite profound, if you think about it. Pet owners and their pets share a living space, operate around each others’ schedules, and often communicate. Is it possible that, like the expert trainer at SeaWorld, we become a little too trusting around animals?
Once a year we have to get our pets their “distemper” shots. What would happen if we did not? Remember, they are “domesticated” animals. That means that through science, breeding, training and medicine, we are now able to live alongside these animals in our homes. However, if there is any doubt about your yorkie’s ability to turn on you, don’t feed him for a few weeks. (Not recommended---just trying to make a point here.)
A few years ago I had a golden retriever who was the best dog ever. “Baloo” would not hurt anything. For a period of time, however, another dog came to stay with us. Baloo showed some quite different behavior when the visitor decided to stick her head in his food dish! A reversion to “survival of the fittest” ensued. Baloo won, but it was still shocking to us that he could exhibit such aggressive behavior.
This interaction doesn't just involve pet owners, but also their neighbors, friends, and colleagues. I not only have two dogs, but so do my neighbors. Whether it is leaving for work or bringing in my groceries, I have learned to "block out" the sound of their barking because I'm used to it. But what would happen if a neighbor's dog became aggressive and bit me, or worse, a family member? It could also be a cat, snake, or even a chimpanzee, such as in the infamous story of a Connecticut woman who was mauled by her friend's aging chimp.
When injury happens from animal behavior, such as a bite or other attack, you have rights under the law. However, in my opinion, it is essential that any victim seek the advice of an experienced personal injury attorney in this area. (Note: You do NOT have to retain one, but, sit down with one as soon as possible after the incident to learn and better understand your rights. When assessing a victim's rights in an animal attack case, there are many variables to consider. For example, did you know that for injuries caused by an animal attack, you may only have one (1) year in Arizona to file a lawsuit to protect your rights, as opposed to two (2) years for most other injury claims? (A recent potential new client, whose grandson was mauled by a dog, recently found out the answer to that question the hard way.)
Like last week’s unsettling story of Tillimuk, the killer whale, deaths from animal attacks are rare. But injuries from animals--whether accidental or malicious--occur every day. This doesn't mean that we should all of a sudden become suspicious of the pets we love or wear steel armor on our walk to the car, but it does mean that we need to be cognizant of the risks than animals pose and aware of the rights we have in the case of an animal attack. A little bit of knowledge can go a long way.
-The Zachar Law Blogger